Last week, Kim, the resident Guybrush Threepwood expert at ‘Later Levels‘, posted 10 things that make her happy and threw out the challenge of sharing some positive vibes to the blogging community. Of course it’s not like me to play by the rules.. ok, it IS like me to play by the rules, but I like to put my own slant on them so whilst there are many non-gaming things that make me happy (My wife, family, home, pup etc…), I’m opting to stay on topic and present you with (in no particular order) ‘10 things that make me happy in games!’
1. Great Soundtrack
So much of my listening is gaming soundtracks, from the gentle slide guitar of Chuck Ragan’s joyous audio for ‘The Flame in the Flood’ to the pounding beats of Payday 2. A strong soundtrack can make an average game great… and a great game epic. Jumping in to a new game and finding that I’m instantly nodding along to the beat or being moved as a dramatic moment is heightened by the audio is a vital piece of the gaming experience for me. This (POSSIBLE SPOILERS) recent scene in Telltale’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ set to Sparks put a huge smile on my face!
2. Lack of Attention to Physics
I once had a lecturer in technical drawing who said “Don’t let the details get in the way of a good story” and if a lecturer can tell a group of engineering students that details aren’t so important then game designers should certainly be able to play it fast and loose with Newton’s laws for the sake of gameplay. From wall jumps, unreasonably walking pace, super-human stamina, and a certain hedgehog’s ability to loop the loop, a lack of regard for the physical laws that we are all forced to obey is often necessary. Dante’s brand of aerial mastery from mid-air double jumps to suspending himself using only a volley of bullets made ‘Devil May Cry’ a treat to play.
3. No Underwater Stages
I can almost hear the disgruntled murmuring at the screen that this doesn’t count because it’s more of a ‘lack of being annoyed’ than something that ‘actively makes me happy’, but I’m going to stop you right there because a game devoid of underwater stages does make me happy. I remember playing ‘Sonic 2’ (MD) for the first time realising that on ‘Aquatic Ruin’ I didn’t HAVE to go underwater and I was delighted at being given the choice.
4. Flawed Characters
The narrative in games has developed hugely in recent years; the medium is gradually sliding away from the silent-protagonist, the binary ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and the two-dimensional being acting simply as a vehicle to the next action sequence. As I mentioned in my discussion of ‘Firewatch’ one of the draws of that game was how flawed the characters were, and how much more relatable and interesting they were because of it. In the same way Max & Chloe from ‘Life is Strange’ won me over to take my 2015 game of the year by being portrayed as flawed and human.
5. Good Choice of Colour Palette
I seem to find myself commenting on the colour palette within a game more and more; a well thought through color scheme can bring a game to life. One of the biggest criticisms I made about Resident Evil 4 was how brown it all was compared to the rich variety on the previous games. The rather stunning Owlboy was a visual feast that not only showed off some impressive pixel art, but highlighted how colour palette can be used to define areas as well as maintain a coherency as the game passes through varied locations.
6. Gritty Plot with Far Fetched Elements
That’s right, I like my escapism raw but fantastical! So many of the games that I’ve become enthused about recently fit this description it would be difficult for me not to include it in a list of gaming ‘stuff’ that makes me happy. Wolfenstein: The New Order jumped out at me with its hard hitting alternative vision of the 1960’s, somber portrayal of an all powerful oppressive regime, and big robots. Likewise my recent excitement about the upcoming sequel to Telltale’s ‘The Wolf Among Us’ is mostly because I want to got the right New York streets again as the big bad wolf personified.
7. Co-Op With Friends
Given the attention I tend to pay to the single player experience, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m not a social gamer… But that’s not true at all. Some of the best gaming experiences I’ve had have happened on Wednesday evening online gaming nights… Now on Mondays… Finding a good co-op experience is a difficult task, but if the fun that we’ve had with ‘No More Room in Hell‘ and ‘7 Days to Die‘ are the yardstick, it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
8. Character Customisation
Character customisation is a guilty pleasure that over the years I’ve learned to accept puts a smile on my face. It could be tweaking a hairstyle, finding a complete set of cool armour, or just putting on the silliest thing in your inventory; however it’s implemented game designers have stumbled upon the perfect feature to include for those times when you just want to pause for five minutes from the zombie/war/geopolitical situation and kickback to do something fun and irrelevant.
9. A World of Detail
Someone once said “A game world without detail is like a drawer without paperclips, next to the filing cabinet of unhappiness”… me… it was me who said it, and full disclosure: I’m not great with similes. However poorly put, my point stands that detail is something I find intriguing about gaming, it might be one of the main driving factors behind what I look for in a single player outing. Creating a world is easy, but filling it and making it feel alive and real requires detail; a home needs to feel lived in, a street needs to be worn and used, and brand identities (no matter how irrelevant) need to be developed. Take a look at the world of Fallout, anyone who has played knows the brand Nuka Cola, but what about Sugar Bombs? Sunset Sarsaparilla? RobCo? Vault Tec? brands are just one way I enjoy detail being injected into game worlds.
10. Small Towns & Wilderness of the U.S.
Right, so I’ll just list a few of the games that I’ve really enjoyed in recent years: Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition (So much so that I’m battling technical issues to play it again), Silent Hill 2, The Flame in the Flood, Firewatch… oh and of course ‘Kentucky Route Zero’. Any themes jumping out there? Yup, I enjoy the U.S. wilderness and small towns as settings. The setting of a game is important and everyone has their own criteria that is likely to pre-endear them to a title; it might be cyberpunk or steampunk, but I guarantee that there will be particular backdrops that draw you personally into a game which you may never have otherwise considered.
So there we have it, my completely-cheating-because-I-changed-the-rules ‘Top 10 Happies’ (… of gaming…). As I’ve broken the format enough, I won’t nominate anyone specifically, but if you want to jump in and throw out some of your own ‘happies’… gaming or otherwise… then do shout out in the comments as I’d love to come and have a read!